Ever wonder why they call it a Value Stream instead of a Value River? I do. If we imagine starting our Agile Journey as a boat on a river, we start navigating the bends and turns following our Agile roadmap. Sounds peaceful, but then the river can turn into a raging rapid and threaten our very existence. Or the river can be dammed up into a lake, where we feel we are going in circles. Both happen to many organizations on their Agile Transformation Journey. I have witnessed companies start strong, only to get stuck wrapping their heads around this concept of Value Streams. Sometimes the easiest concepts are the most difficult to define, let alone implement, in an organization. On my Agile Journey, it was drilled into my mind that the “Value Stream always starts and ends with the customer.” This idea is consistent through several Agile practices, yet the definition itself can be vague and confusing.
SAFe® defines Value Streams as:
“the series of steps that an organization uses to implement Solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to a customer.”
Project Management Institute’s (PMI®) Disciplined Agile defines a Value Stream as:
“the set of actions that take place to add value for customers from the initial request through realization of value by the customers.”
The Agile Almanac defines a Value Stream as:
“the flow of materials and information required to deliver a product or service that the customer values.”
My mother had a degree in English Composition and is probably rolling over in her grave at this point. First, she would tell me to never use the word you are defining in the actual definition. All three references above use the word “value” in the definition of “Value Stream.”
Second, “Value Stream” is two words combined. To get a better understanding of combined words, she would tell me to dissect the words individually. I decided to use this philosophy to develop a better answer to the question “What is a Value Stream?”
The word “Value” can be a noun, verb and an adjective. I chose to use my mom’s favorite dictionary, Merriam Webster, as a place to start.
Value as a noun:
“a relative worth, utility, or importance”
Value as a verb:
“to consider or rate highly”
Value as an adjective:
“of, relating to, or being a brand of inexpensive products marked as an alternative to other, more expensive brands”
I cannot imagine an organization spending the time or money for a “Value brand of Agile,” so we can eliminate the use of Value as an adjective to concentrate on the noun and verb definitions.
Corresponding to the definition of “Value” as a noun, we will focus on the definition of “Stream” as a noun:
“a body of running water” or “a constantly renewed or steady supply”
Streams are constantly flowing and smaller than a river. We could say that a controlled river or a river with constraints is a stream. Businesses work with the constraints of budget, time and scope. So how about?
“A Value Stream is a steady supply of a product or service the customer considers highly important”
If your Agile transformation is stuck, could your Value Streams be blocked? Do you have a lake rather than a stream? If so, it is time to remove the obstacles and get that Agile Value Stream flowing again!